The Cape 9 Hour endurance race presented by the City of Cape Town and the South African Endurance Series at Killarney on Saturday 11 December delivered drama all the way, starting less than two minutes into the event.

That was after the Iliso Labantu dancers demonstrated an unexpected talent with a beautiful rendition of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and the Mayoral Committee member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith, welcomed the participants who had come from all over South Africa and beyond to compete in this race, the championship decider of the SA National Endurance Series.

He thanked them for the boost they had given to city’s hospitality industry and for the attention they had drawn to a city where motorsport is an integral part of city policy, both as an event destination and as a road safety initiative to get street racers off the public roads and into a safe and control environment. Then it was ‘Start your engines!’ and the field set off on a warm-up lap before the rolling start to nine hours of flat-out mayhem.

Six entries, however, had failed to make it on to the grid for the formal start. They lined up in pit lane and waited until the entire field had passed them on its opening lap before joining at the back of the pack. One of the late starters, however, wasn’t ready at all, and left a trail of oil all the way from the pit exit to halfway through Turn 1.

One minute and 24 seconds later the leading cars dived into Turn 1 at the start of their second lap and within the blink of an eye five of them were in the kitty litter, having slid off the circuit on the spilled oil or worse still, collided with each other as they skidded.

The safety car was deployed immediately, and the rest of the field circulated sedately around Killarney for more than 10 minutes while the casualties were cleared away and the oil mopped up with eco-friendly wood based absorbent material.

As soon as racing began again the expected duel between the two Stradale Motorsport Lamborghini Huracans began in earnest as they pulled away from the pack at about three seconds a lap, with ultimate lap-record holder Stuart White in the No.25 car he was sharing with Xollile Letlaka and racing legend Tschops Sipuka taking the early lead from the No.86 car of Charl Arangies and Arnold Neveling.

After an hour, with 41 laps completed, the two snarling V10s were still on the same lap, with Mikaeel Pitamber in the Bigfoot Express Ferrari 458 GT3 he was sharing with Bradley Scorer and Gavin Cronje third, two laps down, and Jaki Scheckter fourth, just 12 seconds further adrift in the Team Africa Le Mans Ginetta GT3, partnered by WesBank V8 legend Hennie Groenewald and Sarel van der Merwe, making a one-off comeback to celebrate his 76th birthday!

At this point the chequered flag came out for the one-hour ‘race within in a race’, with Gregory, Lord Thornton taking line honours in the Titan Historic Racing Chevron, five seconds ahead of Emile Botha’s Nissan 350Z, with Ray Farnham third, almost a lap down in his Birkin S3.

Meanwhile the stars of the show thundered on – for a while, anyway. Halfway through the second hour, the No.25 Huracan ate its gearbox for the second time in two days, and its race was over as it coasted to a stop on the back straight.

That left the surviving Team Stradale car with a comfortable three-lap lead over Scorer in the Bigfoot Ferrari, four laps ahead of Groenewald in the TALM Ginetta and five laps clear of the WCT Porsche 991GTS Cup of Henk Lategan/Heinrich Lategan/Verissimo Tavares.

By one-third distance everybody had settled down to the long grind; the Huracan had reeled off 125 laps, with Neveling three laps clear of the Ferrari, five laps ahead of the WCT Porsche and nine laps ahead of Groenewald in the leading Ginetta.

An hour later Neveling had stretched his lead to six laps, posting the fastest lap of the race so far on lap 134 at 1 min 10.258sec. Cronje was three laps ahead of Lategan’s Porsche and Supervan was cruising the Ginetta in a comfortable fourth.

With more than half the race completed, at the five-hour mark the Stradale team had completed 217 laps, the Ferrari 210 and the Porsche 220. Scheckter was back in the Ginetta after a longer than expected pit stop and pedalling hard to catch Kashen Naicker in the faster of the two Bucketlist Polo SupaCup cars, who was unexpectedly lying fourth on 194 laps.

Late in the afternoon, however, the Gerald Buys/Andrew Horne Xena Chemicals Nash MVW3 suddenly began spewing huge clouds of blue-white smoke, causing consternation among race officials fearing a massive oil spill. However, once the Nash had limped back to the pits it was found that it wasn’t oil – it was rubber smoke!

The left rear suspension had collapsed, and the body was rubbing on the left rear tyre; after a hasty repair the Nash soldiered on, albeit with a noticeably out-of-kilter rear end.

At two-thirds distance the Stradale Lamborghini, having set a new race record lap time of 1min 09.760sec on lap 227, sounded as crisp as ever, with 256 laps on the timekeepers’ telemetry and still seven laps ahead of the Ferrari. Lategan was holding station in the Porsche and Scheckter was back in a solid fourth, two laps ahead of Naicker.

The Ginetta suffered another long pit stop during the seventh hour, promoting Franco Scribante in the Scribante Racing Polo SupaCup he was sharing with Jason Campos to fourth, while Groenewald went on a charge to get the Ginetta back on terms.

With an hour to go, Killarney was under floodlights, adding to the drama with the brake discs of the leading cars glowing red as they dived into corners. Campos in the Scribante Polo and Lategan iin the Ginetta were on the same lap and the two Bucketlist Polos were holding sixth and seventh.

But the drama wasn’t over yet: With less than three minutes to go the Ferrari began misfiring ferociously, spewing bits of molten metal out of its exhaust system and slowing to a crawl. Would it make to it round to the finish under its own steam to take second – or be classified as a non-finisher?

The whole of Killarney held its breath as the clock ticked down, and series promoter Roger Pearce stood ready in the starter’s box with the chequered flag. The Stradale Huracan howled past to take a well-deserved win, the WCT Porsche parked in the spot reserved for third and finally, the Ferrari coasted into sight and stopped a little away from the others, its driver hastily climbing out and calling for the Bigfoot crew to stand by with fire extinguishers in case it burst into flames.

The reason for his concern was immediately obvious – the right-side turbo had failed, and its housing was glowing cherry red at the bottom of the engine compartment!

The Lamborghini had posted a record 394 laps, with the Ferrari losing ground in the final dramatic moments to finish 14 laps down – still seven ahead of the WCT Porsche.

The next three places were taken by Class B Polo SupaCups – an astonishing feat for purpose-built racing cars designed to run no more than 12 laps at a time. More than that, Scribante and Campos in the leading Polo were also crowned South African Endurance Racing champions for 2021 after punching above their weight at every round of the series. Of 33 starters, 20 were still running at the finish, although only six of the original 14 Backdraft Roadsters survived. Mention must be made, however, of the SNVL Backdraft of Duncan dos Reis, Richard van Heerden and Thouca Mechanicos, who came home eighth overall and first in Class E with 326 laps to their credit, as well as the ‘home team’ – WPMC president Dr Greg Mills, chairman Tim Reddell and vice-chairman Mark Ridgway, who finished 12th overall and first in the GT4 Class on 298 laps.